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Thread: lens sharpness and clarity

  1. #1

    lens sharpness and clarity

    I had a long conversation with one of our more famous camera makers, and he said that if one is using f16 or smaller, the new lenses do nothing for you in terms of image clarity or sharpness. We did not get into acutance, and other things that are somewhat subjective, but it leaves me with the question. Why would you pay $1800 for a new model schneider that is available as a goertz or eastman in the used market for $500? I am speaking of mid length 5x7 lenses, say 180mm to 270mm. This question makes the assumption that the lens design is the same, i.e. same number of air contact surfaces and a basic design, say a tessar.

  2. #2

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    lens sharpness and clarity

    The greatest advantage to a new lens design, in my opinion, is multicoating. I shoot a 8 1/4 inch (210 mm) Dagor on my 8X10. The lens is blazingly sharp. The cost was $230.00.

  3. #3

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    lens sharpness and clarity

    Hooboy! Big question. Besides multicoating, which is indeed an advantage, though not as big an improvement as single coating is over no coating, a new lens comes mounted in a new shutter. This is important to those to whom the lens is a tool used to make a living. In addition to dependability, the new shutter will probably offer greater accuracy.



    Many people buy new cars even though they know that depreciation startsd at the end of the car dealer's driveway. The rest of us can be thankful they do, because otherwise there would be no used cars available.



    There are much bigger advantages to new lenses once you move away from the moderately long Tessar or similar types you mention. Recent shorter length lenses offer greater coverage, larger focusing apertures and/or usability over a wider range of distances, in addition to to multicoating and new shutters.

  4. #4
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    lens sharpness and clarity

    If it's the exact same design, the only thing you gain is the coatings, a gain that can be considerable. The coated and uncoated lenses may be equally sharp, but the coated lens will be show more contrast and be less prone to flare problems.

    Coatings give you more options. Because the light transmission through an element is much greater with a coating, you can use more elements and have more glass-air interfaces. If you can use more elements, you can make a lens that improves on many of the abberations, especially the higher order aberations. You can also get bigger image circles with modern lens designs.

    What I did was to buy new if I couldn't find the lenses I wanted used. I ended up with a mixed set, from a new Schnieder 110mm SS-XL to a 1950s 14" Goerz RD Artar in a Compur #2 shutter. Both designs deliver outstanding sharpness and stunning images. If only the photographer were equal to the task ;-)

    So, if you can find a lens that does what you want on the used market, and it's coated (single or multi), go for it. Spend the "extra" money on film...

    Bruce Watson

  5. #5

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    lens sharpness and clarity

    I've had a similar obseration. The only currently manufactured mc lenses I have are a pair of Nikkor M in 300 & 450mm. Beautiful lenses, though my 50+ year old sc 14" Commercial Ektar(all these lenses are tessars BTW)is very much their equal and even surpasses the nikkors when wide open---f6.3 opposed to f9! The image circle too, is substantially greater on the 14" C.Ektar than the 300 M. The biggest thing IMHO going for the Nikkors are their modern, light copal shutters and multicoating. I'll stick with classic glass unless there is a pressing need to do otherwise(as was the case with my Nikkors)
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
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  6. #6

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    lens sharpness and clarity

    Personally, I still like to stick with modern optics and modern coatings. Based on totally anecdotal data, I think one gets better color fidelity. I have an acquaintance who shoots 8x10 with a 12" or 14" Commercial Ektar, and his color photographs definately have that 50's look. Older lenses are also susceptable to fungi that may not be that obvious when first purchased. I got nailed by fungi in two older lenses I had purchased, a 120mm Angulon and a 12" Goerz Red Dot Artar. Needless to say, it made them more difficult to sell.

    For cost versus benefit reasons, I've standardized on Symmar-S lenses. They're sharp, yet affordable. Perhaps I wouldn't see that much difference between these and current models, since I tend to photograph at f16 or smaller. Based on input from a Schneider technician, nor do I think that multi over single-coating adds that much value. Still, these Schneider lenses can also develop Schneider-itis, little white specs that form on the inside of the barrel. After a point, I can't believe that these specs won't have an effect on image quality, despite Schneider's claims.

    You mentioned purchasing new. Provided a modern lens is in good shape and has the appearance of being treated with care, I have no qualms about purchasing used. It's much less expensive.

  7. #7

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    lens sharpness and clarity

    Isn't there any issue with sample consistency as well ?

    With modern manufacturing the optical performance is much more consistent due to better quality manufacture and quality control procedures.

    Whereas in lenses from the early 1900s do you not have to try out each lens on an individual basis ? I.e. one lens will be a dog but another may be a peach ??

  8. #8
    Ted Harris's Avatar
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    lens sharpness and clarity

    There is no way to answer this question in terms of generalities. You need to compare two or more specific lenses to get any meaningful answers.



    Just saying the lens design is the same is not enough. Even within a specific lens series (e.g. Rodenstock Apor Sironar N or Schneider Apo Symmar) there are many many small design changes made over the lifetime of the lens series manufacture.



    Clearly there are instances where the observations of the original poster are accurate but, without further information, they are no more than ancedotal.

  9. #9
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    lens sharpness and clarity

    I tend toward modern (1970s and later) lenses for 4x5", which I enlarge, and classic lenses for 8x10" and 11x14", which I contact print. I prefer the look of certain classic lenses (mostly Heliars and Dagors), but they don't always hold up as well to enlargement and weren't necessarily designed to.

    If you want a modern lens on a budget, there are some great deals to be had on single coated f:8 Super Angulons and Symmar convertibles that are really fine lenses in good shutters, often under $500. I have a single coated 150/4.5 Xenar, and though it is generally thought to be a budget lens that is quite sharp. It's not as nice as my 135/3.5 Planar, but it's much more compact, takes a smaller shade, and I can close the camera with it mounted, so I often use it for that reason.

  10. #10

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    lens sharpness and clarity

    I'm going to have to add an observation here. I see LF as an area where the baby boomer generation that has come of age and is monied can fight against our modern world of instantaneous gratification and poor quality. Many folks are at that point where they can throttle back and enjoy some years in the pursuit of excellence. That said I think ignorance and learning curve kick in. You've got the money and someone tells you an Ebony and a 110XL are "the best" so that's what you go for. The knowledge that diffraction limitation is a great equalizer and that there are MANY beautiful older professional lenses out there comes later for some, and I have to say after attending a recent work shop, never for others. For a lot of folks the only way they can be sure of getting the quality they're in pursuit of is to buy something new that says Schneider-Kreuznach or Rodenstock on it. For others of us trying different things is part of the adventure and adds to the fun.
    He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep..to gain that which he cannot lose. Jim Elliot, 1949

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